What to do in Berlin if you only have one day:
If one thing is sure, it’s that you could spend months in Berlin and not even scratch the surface of our immense, sprawling city. We think of it like an onion – each time you peel off a layer, you simply find another one to explore underneath. However, sometimes as much as you wish you had more time, you only have one day in Berlin – and it’s our job to help you make the most of your visit.
Our team are architects, historians, actors, activists, academics and all round experts on the city of Berlin: here’s what we’d advise you to do if you only have 24 hours.
While it’s tempting, cramming in as many sights as possible won’t be the best use of your day. Use your time to be selective, to understand the complex history and culture of this city – and have some time to enjoy yourself too.
Let’s assume you arrive around lunchtime and leave the following morning, and you’ll stay in Mitte. You’ve got the full afternoon and evening to get a grasp of what Berlin is about – and if you’re early risers, the following morning too.
If it was up to us? We’d take you on a historical journey to bring you inside Berlin’s past and present character. Have a look at our private Berlin highlights tour here to see what we can do. All our tours are tailored to fit your needs – start from your hotel, take a private van, go by bike, just tell us!
Essential background to Berlin’s history before you visit:
The key thing to understand about Berlin is its different historical eras, and how these influenced our city. We can loosely divide Berlin’s city history into 5 important eras.
- Prussia & German Empire: 1525 – 1918
- Weimar Republic: 1918 – 1933
- Third Reich/Nazi Germany: 1933 – 1945
- Divided Germany & The Cold War : 1946 – 1991
- Reunification & Modern Germany : 1990 – present
Each era left its mark on Berlin, and all are visible as you explore the city. These periods of our history and the sights that you see during your visit are all linked together. Even with one day in Berlin you can get a sense of how our city came to exist in its present form.
Want to find out more about Berlin’s timeline? Read our in-depth guide to Berlin’s timeline here.
Your first afternoon: Famous Landmarks in Berlin
Take a historical afternoon walk through the city’s key historical sights. Walking is the best way to make the most of your one day in Berlin – the city is very pedestrian friendly and you’ll see much more as you walk by, even if you don’t stop.
Berlin’s most famous sights have stood through the eras, and while some are older than others, they all provide visible links between the different periods of history in our city.
Once you have arrived in Mitte, your first stop should be the political quarter. Walking south, you’ll pass the Reichstag, The Brandenburg Gate and The Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe. From the political heart of German life, to commemorating one of our greatest tragedies – each of these sights played a key role in the formation of Berlin today. Spend some time here to reflect on the significance of these locations.
Keep walking south to discover more about the period from 1933 onwards. Along Zimmerstrasse you’ll come across the Topography of Terror museum, which gives a great overview of the key historical events leading up and beyond to WWII. Located at one of the key crossing points between East and West Berlin, you can also see various museums and memorials dedicated to the Cold War years, which you might like to come back to tomorrow morning.
As an optional extra, extend your walk Southwards towards the Jewish Musuem of Berlin. As well as being a fascinating museum with exhibitions on the contribution of the Jewish population to Berlin’s past and present, the architecture itself – including the Garden of Exile and the Holocaust Tower – is unique and well worth a visit.
Hop on board the subway to U Silesian Gate to visit the East Side Gallery. This must-see section of the old Berlin wall has been preserved as a street gallery of contemporary art. It’s one of Berlin’s most well known attractions, and is open to anyone: there are no tickets required and you may even see people adding their own contribution to the wall… For more context on the Berlin Wall and the Cold War wall, make sure you pay a visit to one of the cold war museums close to Checkpoint Charlie, as the East Side Gallery doesn’t offer background information.
If you’d like to explore more of Berln’s Cold War and Communist History, we provide specially tailored private tours with a local expert.
Heading back to the centre either on foot or by train, make your way to Bebelplatz and Museum Island to discover grand imperial buildings from pre-WWII Berlin: The Opera House, Berliner Dom, Altes Museum and more. Stop off for a visit in whichever sparks your interest, or continue across the Spree towards Alexanderplatz and the iconic TV Tower. Finally, weave your way back towards the very centre of Berlin through the Jewish quarter of Berlin, where visitors can now find trendy shops, cafes and eateries.
Although this walk gives you a chance to tick off many of the top sights in Berlin, we don’t recommend trying to include everything!
Pick one or two sights to stop at and spend time – don’t rush – you can come back to the rest. If you want to make the absolute most of your time, hiring a local guide is the best way. With a Berlin expert at your side, even walking through a square or walking down the street gives you chance to learn about the key historic and cultural events that took place right here. Learn more about our tours tailored just for you.
Evening: What to do in Berlin at Night
Berlin is a city that comes alive at night – from street food celebrations to fine dining, from high brow culture to all night dancing.
Depending on your interests, your evening in Berlin is another chance to understand the soul of our city. You could spend the evening at a classic biergarten, visit a Michelin starred restaurant or take a night time tour to discover even more of the city’s culture and history.
During the summer especially, Berliners love to celebrate the long nights outdoors. The city is overflowing with open air music and cultural events to discover – event listings include outdoor opera, contemporary performance art, historical and philosophical lectures, outdoor concerts and film showings. For up to date listings take a look at the Visit Berlin website.
To make the most of your time, we are happy to arrange exciting and unusual evening events – unique dining experiences, after-hours private museum visits or night-time tours are all part of our service! Learn more about our custom tours and fun group activities.
Before you go home: Cultural Activities in Berlin
With only a little time left, make sure you rise early to get the most from your visit.
After breakfast, use your remaining time to revisit a museum or gallery that you didn’t get to the previous day. Some of the best art galleries and museums to visit in Berlin include:
- The Jewish Museum
- The Berlin Wall Memorial & Museum
- Hamburger Bahnhopf – Contemporary Art Museum
- Neues Museum
- Pergamon Museum
- Berlin Gallery
If you would like to dive even deeper into the history and culture of our city, we can organise an out-of-hours tour or private guide of Berlin’s museums as part of your visit. Just get in touch and we’ll be happy to assist.
Happily topped up with culture and a great understanding of Berlin’s past and present, you can head home with a list of what to see next time.
At Humboldt tours we pride ourselves on our bespoke historical itineraries and expert guides. Whether you have 24 hours or 7 days in and around Berlin, we can arrange a tour itinerary that covers all your interests. We can also offer unique experiences in the surrounding regions, group activities for organisations or universities, and complete Germany holiday packages.